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The Gluten-Free Surge Continues

With all this recent buzz over converting to a gluten-free diet, one has to wonder whether it's safe to go gluten-free without a gluten intolerance - we say no.

 

With the growing awareness of celiac disease and gluten intolerance, gluten-free products have become highly sought after. Health Canada declared celiac disease as one of the most common chronic diseases in the world and has acknowledged how seriously underreported this epidemic is. To date, gluten-free products are a $90-million enterprise; and within these reported sales, the snacks category was reported the largest (1). Disease identification has inevitably led to the surge of the gluten-free lifestyle. Celebrity endorsements and media outlets have embraced this trend, which further influences the general population to consider this dietary modification. Dr. Oz has become a gluten-free advocate, broadcasting a 7-day gluten-free recipe manual for individuals to test their intolerance before visiting a doctor (2). Additionally, The New York Times’ bestseller, Wheat Belly, has had a tremendous impact on the gluten-free community showcased in their slogan “lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health” (3). As well, celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga have credited their weight loss to gluten-free diets heavily impacting today’s youth (4).

For individuals diagnosed with celiac disease, autoimmune diseases are likely to develop. A gluten-free diet has been proposed as a therapeutic application to this development. In a human cohort trial with over 900 celiac patients both pediatric and adult, it was elucidated that a gluten-free diet has a protective effect over individuals at risk for autoimmune diseases (5). In fact, individuals that complied with a gluten-free diet over a ten-year interval had an incidence of 5.4/1000 vs. those who did not comply at 11.3/1000 (5). Moreover, in a cross-sectional questionnaire survey completed in Sweden analyzed the effects of a gluten-free diet on chronic disease symptoms, health care consumption and risk of developing associated immune-mediated diseases (6). All invested symptoms, with the exception of joint pain, improved after diagnosis and initiated gluten-free diet. As well, both health care consumption and missed work days decreased; however, there was no effect on autoimmune diseases (6). However, a smaller human intervention study analyzing newly diagnosed celiac patients measured autoimmune disease onset after a 1-year gluten-free diet (7). During this study, thyroid function was tested and determined; and it was found that at the time of celiac-diagnosis, a greater number of celiac patients had thyroid diseases than controls (7). Upon study completion, a gluten-free diet did not prevent the progression of autoimmune diseases during a 1-year follow up and thyroiditis was not impacted (7).

Remember that these studies were performed in individuals that have gluten-intolerance and celiac disease. Individuals without these dietary restrictions can ultimately decrease gut flora levels and biochemically alter their digestive system. 

If you are thinking about jumping onto the gluten-free diet bandwagon, we recommend you consult a healthcare professional first.

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